Magic, mystery and mice
CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF THE YEAR:The Christmas story seen through the eyes of a donkey, first love, a boy soldier and a mysterious key all feature in ROBERT DUNBAR's best children's books of the year
Al Capone Shines My Shoes
By Gennifer Choldenko (Bloomsbury, £6.99)
Friendship with Alcatraz’s most famous inhabitant brings its rewards – and complications – for young Moose and his family.
A Trick of the Dark
By BR Collins (Bloomsbury, £7.99)
A teenage boy dies – or does he? – following an accident: a supernatural thriller of strong emotions and strong language.
By Jane Mitchell (Walker, £5.99)
Set in Kashmir, this powerful novel traces young Rafiq’s transformation from boy to boy soldier and its effects on his family’s life.
Colm the Lazarus Key
By Kieran Mark Crowley (Mercier, €8.99)
This Irish adventure story features boy cousins, allegedly cursed books and a mysterious key, wrapped together with wit and humour.
Eating Things on Sticks
By Anne Fine (Doubleday, £10.99)
Young Harry, a bachelor uncle and the latter’s girlfriend have the holiday from hell on a remote island: hilarious!
By Mary Arrigan (Frances Lincoln, £6.99)
The distances between the Ireland of the Famine and Australia’s goldfields are skilfully bridged in a young heroine’s story of courage and determination.
By Philip Reeve (Scholastic, £12.99)
A London where history and fantasy coalesce sees 14-year-old Fever search for her origins and save the capital from destruction.
It’s a Secret!
By John Burningham (Walker, £11.99)
A cat’s nocturnal activities – and their consequences – are at the heart of this beautifully conceived picture book.
Millie’s Marvellous Hat
By Satoshi Kitamura (Andersen, £11.99)
A little girl’s longing for an expensive hat is gratified by an invisible one: a picture book celebrating childhood imagination.
By Rachel Ward (The Chicken House, £6.99)
The ability to foresee the date of someone’s death brings its complications for teenager Jem and her friend Spider.
By Marcus Sedgwick (Orion, £9.99)
An Arctic setting, a boy, a dead father, a menacing stranger – and a revolver: from these ingredients a totally engrossing story emerges.
Rowan the Strange
By Julie Hearn (Oxford, £10.99)
A 13-year-old schizophrenic undergoes electric shock therapy: his reactions to it and to his fellow patients provide an intense, thought-provoking narrative.
Solace of the Road
By Siobhan Dowd (David Fickling, £10.99)
Fourteen-year-old Holly Hogan travels, by road and ferry, from London to Ireland to be reunited with her mother: there are numerous revelations en route.
By Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Scholastic, £10.99)
A delightful rhyming story celebrates the adventures of a straying busker’s cat.
Tales from Outer Suburbia
By Shaun Tan (Templar, £12.99)
Quirky anecdotes and quirky artwork combine to provide offbeat insights into humankind’s strange ways.
By Margo Lanagan (David Fickling, £12.99)
A mother and her daughters move between real and fantasy worlds in this multi-layered and frequently disturbing novel.
The Ant Colony
By Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins, £6.99)
A 17-year-old runaway boy, living in a Camden Town squat, finds friendship in an unlikely source: a well plotted, engrossing story.
The Ask and the Answer
By Patrick Ness (Walker, £12.99)
On the planet called New World teenagers Todd and Viola struggle valiantly with the pains of separation and loss.
The Bride’s Farewell
By Meg Rosoff (Penguin, £10.99)
A young Victorian woman walks away from her wedding and encounters unexpected developments on travels with her brother.
The Crowded Shadows
By Celine Kiernan (O’Brien, €10.99)
Wynter Moorehawk’s travels – and travails – through the darkening European forests continue in pursuit of her “rebel” friend, Prince Alberon.
The Death Defying Pepper Roux
By Geraldine McCaughrean (Oxford, £12.99)
Pepper, on his 14th birthday, embarks on various colourful adventures, determined to thwart the prophecy of an early death.
The Demon’s Lexicon
By Sarah Rees Brennan (Simon Schuster, £6.99)
Two teenage brothers, their mother and an aura of magic, necromancy and demonology provide the material for a stylishly written novel guaranteed to appeal to all fans of gothic fantasy.
The Lion, the Unicorn and Me
By Jeanette Winterson, illustrated by Rosalind MacCurrach (Scholastic, £12.99)
An attractively designed book relates the most famous of Christmas stories as seen through the eyes of a humble donkey.
By Morris Gleitzman (Puffin, £5.99)
Felix and Zelda escape from the train transporting them to a concentration camp: a struggle for survival in the face of evil and cruelty ensues.
By Simon Stewart, illustrated by PJ Lynch (whowhatwherewhenwhy: W5, £12.99)
A seasonal outing for Hoffman’s well known story comes with a complementary mix of appealing narrative and attractive characterisation and settings.
By Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Roaring Books Press, $17.95)
A little girl speculates on what is entailed in moving between the “here” of her present and the “there” of her imaginings.
What I Saw and How I Lied
By Judy Blundell (Scholastic, £6.99)
America, 1947: time for 15-year-old Evie to make shattering discoveries about her family’s secrets – and to experience the pangs of first love.
Wheels of War
By Sally Prue (Oxford, £5.99)
Two young men, caught up in the consequences of civil war, learn to reconsider their notions of heroes and heroism.
The White Horse Trick
By Kate Thompson (Bodley Head, £10.99)
Late 21st century Ireland, scarred by climatic change and environmental damage, contrasts tellingly with the mythical world of Tir na nÓg.
The Wisdom of Dead Men
By Oisín McGann (Corgi, £6.99)
Further shenanigans from the Wildensterns of Co Wicklow – “no ordinary family” – provide a compelling blend of fantasy and social history.
Robert Dunbar is a commentator on children’s books and a contributor to the recently published 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up,edited by Julia Eccleshare (Octopus Books)